I Spend Too Much Time Online

The time I spend online increased significantly starting with the pandemic. Internet addiction, and more specifically social media addiction, is very common in today’s world. Hundreds of millions of people are addicted to the internet (https://www.businessinsider.com/420-million-people-are-addicted-to-the-internet-study-2014-12), and is similar to other more traditionally-known-about addictions (https://healthcare-digital.com/technology-and-ai/internet-addiction-same-drink-or-drug-dependency). Here are some side effects I’ve experienced from being online too much.

I’m angrier/more anxious. It’s easy to get swept away learning about everything terrible going on in the world and constantly exposing yourself to it. It’s one thing to stay up on the news and be aware of what’s going on around you. It’s another to never give yourself a break from the constant news cycle.

I have a much shorter attention span. With so much available at my fingertips, I have a much harder time watching an entire movie or video until the end. It has also affected my ability to calm down enough to read for enjoyment — something I’ve loved doing ever since I learned how to read, in kindergarten. Offline activities simply aren’t as stimulating. Web site algorithms set you up to become addicted to the drama you read about and watch, keeping you hooked 24/7.

My days feel way shorter. Wasting so much time online, your day gets away from you more easily. You realize you’ve hardly gotten anything productive accomplished by the time you turn off the light to go to sleep.

I’m more tired. Lying around makes me more tired than if I were active during the day. And science backs this up. I wake up tired, stay tired all day, and go to bed tired. I put off chores and avoid going outside. I almost never feel refreshed.

Even though I’m constantly tired, I experience insomnia. My increased internet usage coincided with bad insomnia. There have been nights I haven’t gone to sleep at all. Taking sleeping meds, which can have bad side effects themselves, often do not help, or I find myself waking up in the middle of the night wide awake.

I live in the past/future instead of the present. The nostalgia I find via the internet makes me grieve for the past. Negative, scary news makes me fear the future. None of it is good for my mental health.

I notice that often I excuse my internet use by saying it’s educational — I’m watching a documentary or researching a topic I didn’t know about before. But really, that’s just an excuse. I know I’d be better off just not being online in the first place and spending my time on moe meaningful pursuits. In reality, it serves as a distraction from all my problems. And that’s why I abuse it.

I am considering doing one of those 30-day cleanses where you abstain from the internet for anything not work or school related or otherwise necessary. Maybe I’d make an exception for a movie or documentary, as long as I watch it ’til the end. One thing is for sure — I’d have a lot of extra time to fill and get a lot of reading done.

I Did Something I’ve Never Done Before

Recently I did something brand-new (for me, anyway). Was it sky diving? Swimming with sharks? Parasailing? Nope. Something much more mundane and less dramatic, yet no less thrilling.

I got rid of too-small clothes.

There have been many times in my life I have held onto clothing for “when I get smaller.” I hold on to this clothing intentionally, thinking they will motivate me to live healthier and lose weight.

However, as much as that line of thinking might seem logical, that’s not the way it ever works for me. Instead of acting as inspiration for good, the too-small clothes keep me dwelling on the past and the future, not the present. I think about when last they fit me, I dream about the things I will do and accomplish when I lose the weight and can wear them again. Far from keeping me accountable in the present, they provide a way for me to escape from my current circumstances and not make necessary changes. In fact, there is research showing people often feel just as good imagining positive change as they do after they have actually made the changes for themselves. While this might provide a temporary nice feeling and positive mood, it can seriously sabotage your goals.

The more I looked at those clothes hanging there, the more they seemed to be mocking me. The more my depression, anxiety, and self-loathing grew. Bagging them to be given away, I noticed I didn’t even like a lot of those clothes anymore. My style had shifted over the years without my realizing it. I looked at what resulted from certain spontaneous clothing purchases and simply shook my head. My style is much more classic and minimalistic now.

I know that I am not alone and that many people (especially women) hold on to clothes the way I did, dreaming of “some day.” But I would challenge them to let go and experience how freeing it is. I now live in reality, fully accepting and acknowledgng my body as it currently is, even while committing to make changes going forward.

Quick Anxiety-Reducing Tips

I struggle with anxiety and I have learned what helps me during these times. Although different coping techniques work for different people, I decided I would share mine with you in hopes they might help somebody.

Drink water — I feel more clear-headed, positive, and emotionally stable when I am hydrated. On the contrary, I feel foggy-headed and am more vulnerable to negative emotions when I am dehydrated.

Get outside — I feel calmer and uplifted when I spend some time outside, especially if the weather is nice.

Take a hot shower — For me, showers are like being back in the womb. They’re cocooning and allow me both to experience a level of sensory deprivation (everything going on outside the shower stall falls away), while also experiencing some positive and calming sensory input (the roar of the shower in my ears and the pounding water on my body).

Exercise — Moving my body is an almost immediate anxiety lifter. It feels good to be active, to strengthen my body, and to engage in this type of self-care.

Deep breathe — Anxiety leads to shallow breathing, which can lead to more anxiety in what becomes a vicious cycle. Simply concentrating on my breathing and taking deep breaths calms and centers me.

Repeat a mantra — I will sometimes self-soothe by repeating a mantra such as “Everything will be okay” or “It’s not that serious”. Sometimes vocally contradicting the anxiety results in it dissipating.

Start cleaning/straightening — A clean, uncluttered environment has always made me feel more in control of myself. On the contrary, a messy, chaotic environment contributes to my bouts of anxiety.

Think grateful thoughts — Considering what I’m grateful for always calms me and helps put my worries and concerns in context. The situation is almost never as dire as I make it out to be.

Talk to somebody — Being alone can aid the anxiety in continuing. Sometimes just talking with a friendly person can cause the cycle of negative thoughts and emotions to end.

What are some ways you successfully battle anxiety?

I’m Holding Back in My Writing

Recently I’ve realized how stunted my writing is. I’m constantly holding back. Writing, for me, has always been an essential outlet for releasing my emotions and getting thoughts out of my head and sorted into some kind of more tangible, manageable form. And yet, even privately, I’m unable to keep from censoring myself when putting my thoughts and emotions down on paper. It’s like I’m scared that by committing them to paper, all of my fears, bad memories, and wildest assumptions will take on a whole new, scarier reality. That by putting them to paper, they’ll become more powerful, more actual, more determinative. No more trapped inside my mind to be conjured up and played with or dismissed at will — now unleashed, a separate entity with a will all their own.

Yet what if I’m wrong? What if the opposite is actually true and, after writing down my thoughts and emotions, they seem a lot sillier and more insignificant to me? That’s in some ways more terrifying. I might realize my positions aren’t the most reasonable. I might realize I need to take some kind of action or change my perspective — that scares and unbalances me, makes me feel as though my legs have been swept out from under me. And worst of all, I might realize I have been living a mere existence, based on self-delusion, instead of the full life I could have been living. Is it possible I have created a meaningless existence for myself? Is my life made up of small things? Am I unfit for more important concerns and undertakings? The possibility I’ve been wasting my life on pettiness is crushing to consider.

Lastly, there are things I don’t want to admit about myself that I’m hardly able to think about, let alone put down on paper. Past actions, loathsome character traits I see in myself, reprehensible thoughts. Things that are already so painful to humor for even the brief moments they flit through my mind that I can’t imagine inscribing them and experiencing them via other senses, as well. The feeling of the pen in my hand as I write them. Looking at them on the page. Even smelling the paper and ink. The words, stark and accusing: “See, we are real. All your worst fears, most jaded perspectives, embarrassing memories, and horrifying suspicions about how others view you, they’re all true. We weren’t just ethereal synapses firing at random, easily rationalized away. We represent reality, and you’re going to have to confront us in a meaningful way sooner or later or your life will only ever be pain and sadness.”

Depression and anxiety have both affected my writing negatively. In turns, I feel each emotion. Depression numbs me to the point of no feelings, paralyzing my writing. Inversely, anxiety causes so many feelings to arise I become overcome with emotions and can’t think to write. Can any of you relate?

Happy International Day of Persons With Disabilities

December 3 is International Day of Persons With Disabilities. Many people with mental disorders qualify as being disabled. Severe mental illness can make it impossible to hold a job, drive a car, attend to personal hygiene, maintain a household, go shopping, or do many of the necessary activities of daily living that most take for granted. And yet many do not believe that those with diagnosed mental disorders should receive any governmental assistance. It can be a lot easier to have empathy and understanding for someone whose disability is visible, such as someone in a wheelchair, missing a limb, or someone with Down’s syndrome. I have written a poem on the topic I’d like to share with you here.

Invisible Disability

It’s waging a war fought by just one,

Sustaining hits to which no one else is

subjected,

And coming away with shrapnel

unsearchable by physical means,

While others deny a war is taking place,

Yet finding yourself on its front lines,

Without armor, unprotected, lacking well-

wishes of love and healing,

Hiding in public,

Camouflaging in plain sight,

Yet still the main target,

Required to fight,

Even while returns continue to diminish,

A losing battle.

Eight Tips for Staving Off Sadness During the Holidays

While the Holidays are touted as an inherently happy, uplifting time of the year, for many people it is anything but. In fact, it can be a depressing time that many just try to “get through”. This time of the year can highlight the things that are wrong in your life, such as a lack of money or family or love. So what can you do to ease the pain?

Be grateful. I know this wisdom can often come off as trite and preachy, but it has worked for me. Whenever I am feeling disconsolate, that the world is against me, that nothing ever goes my way, I think about the positives in my life. I think about what I have that many other people lack. I think about the ways in which I’m fortunate, what I’ve achieved, what I’ve been given, and the ways in which my life is a lot easier and fuller than other people’s. I don’t do this to gloat but instead to foster a grateful attitude in myself and to avoid encouraging negative thinking patterns. And it almost always works. Don’t criticize yourself for not having what others have. Others might have more money, closer families, and better love lives. They most likely also had different upbringings, experiences, and opportunities in life. They also likely face struggles you don’t know about. Keep your focus on you.

Don’t overextend yourself. It’s not worth getting into debt or stressing yourself over money in order to spend more than you can afford just to fit in with everyone else. Avoid getting wrapped up (pun unintended) in the commercialism of the season.

Don’t concentrate on the past. Times might have been better back then. Holidays past might have been a lot cheerier. Thinking about those times might remind you of what you had and what you lost. We can’t go back, only forward, so concentrate on the changes you can make NOW to ensure happier future Holiday seasons.

Make your own traditions. Maybe your family didn’t have any or you don’t subscribe to them. Make your own and start a new generational tradition among your family or friends. Post about it on social media if you have an account. Start a trend. Inspire others.

Attend to self-care. Be extra gentle with yourself around this time of year. It can already be a dreary, cold time. Don’t beat yourself up for having a different life than others or for not being able to enjoy the season the way many others can.

Avoid over-indulging in sweets. While they make you happy in the moment, the inevitable crash can lead to depression. You don’t have to totally deprive yourself unless you have an issue with self-control around food, but make sure you’re not using sweets to fill the void in your life that this season can trigger.

Keep yourself busy. Attend to tasks you’ve been putting off like cleaning or donating unwanted items. Use this season to concentrate on productive pursuits instead of allowing yourself to wallow in self-pity.

Be open to happiness and light. Don’t harden your heart or allow resentment to occur. Consider attending a Holiday party, inviting a friend over for dinner, or taking a drive to see the festive lights and decorations many people put out this time of year. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or help an elderly neighbor. Embrace the good parts of the season even though you might find it sorrowful, as well.

I hope everyone celebrating Thanksgiving today is having a wonderful holiday. And I hope you’re taking care of yourselves in all of the most important ways, including attending to your mental health, and that you will continue to do so throughout this Holiday season. Stay safe and warm!

What the Jobs I’ve Held Have Taught Me About Myself

I’ve held several different jobs, in different fields. Some I have liked and felt were a good fit. Others I simply tolerated but did not feel comfortable doing or enjoy. I believe my experience is pretty typical of most workers. Here I’d like to consider the reasons behind why certain jobs were “right for me” and certain jobs weren’t. I think you can learn a lot about yourself based on the kinds of jobs you do well in and those you don’t, those that inspire you and those that drain you.

I have worked as a childcare professional, as both a private babysitter and in group settings (daycare and gym kids’ club). From this line of work, I have learned that I enjoy creativity in my job. For example, I got to make up games, do crafts, and make lots of cool things with Legos with the kids. However, the chaotic, unpredictable nature of children and working in child care do not jive with my spirit but instead cause me anxiety.

I have worked as a caregiver to the elderly via a senior care agency. I enjoyed the solo nature of this work —not having any coworkers—because I worked with private clients and generally in private homes. Even when I would go to a nursing home, assisted living facility, or hospital, I worked one-on-one with the client. I also really enjoyed hearing my elderly clients’ stories and life experiences from past eras, as I love history, and it intrigues me. However, similar to child care, it caused me great anxiety to have someone’s life in my hands or to have to respond quickly and competently to unexpected scenarios arising, such as dementia-related outbursts or medical emergencies. I am not great “on my feet” and feel much more secure when I have gotten the chance to prepare. Driving these clients (in my own car, no less) was also risky and stressful.

I have worked as a retail manager. I enjoyed, once again, the solo nature of this work. I worked in a tiny gift shop owned by an individual with two other managers in charge of the store. I worked second shift and was the only employee in the shop during my shift. Not even the owner was around unless he happened to drop by for a few minutes to take care of some business. I had great responsibilities including ordering stock, money- counting, ensuring shop security, etc. As a result, I took great pride in my job and enjoyed not being micromanaged by anybody. However, it was stressful not having anybody around to help when the shop was very busy or when I had to deal with irate customers.

I have worked as an at-home transcriptionist. The work was legal transcription of a court reporter’s audio files. It required incredible attention to detail and constant focus. I enjoyed using my grammar and spelling strengths in this position, the lack of coworkers and micromanagement, and the ability to take breaks when needed. I could stop early for the day and wake up to do work in the middle of the night if I wanted, as long as I got the work done by the deadline. However, the work was incredibly tedious and mentally-draining.

I have worked as a patient observer. This job was a non-medical position in a hospital emergency room that required me to do room searches and personal searches of patients deemed to be homicidal or suicidal, in order to protect everybody’s safety. It required me never to take my eyes off the patient and to ensure they didn’t have anything they could hurt themselves or others with, such as pens, scissors, or sheets (they might hang themselves). I was constantly pitted between what my supervisors wanted me to do and what the nurses on the floor wanted to be done, and this actually caused me to feel much greater anxiety and insecurity than working with violent patients.

Several years ago, I worked in a major corporate pharmacy chain for a day before quitting. I was hired as a retail associate and was required to do many tasks, including both stocking and cashiering. The training was minimal, most on the computer (so not very practical), and the job was absolutely chaotic. I’d be sitting on the floor stocking something on the bottom shelf when I’d be yelled at by someone to check the front counter because a customer (who I wasn’t able to see from my vantage point) was waiting to check out.

Several years ago, I worked for a major residential cleaning company for a week before realizing that kind of physical labor wasn’t going to be something I could stand on any kind of a consistent basis, and the pay scheme was such that you didn’t actually know how much you’d be paid.

I have worked as a live-in personal assistant. This was another job that allowed me great freedom over when I did my work and how I did my work. I worked for a woman who was the president of a company headquartered in NYC who needed me to cook, clean, do laundry, run errands, make/answer phone calls, and chauffeur herself and her teenage son. I had tons of free time during the day and could run errands of my own in-between. I would say in a 12-hour day I generally had about 2 hours’ worth of actual work to do. However, I felt a little trapped not being able to go back to my own home every night and feeling pressured to do things with the family members outside of my work hours.

My most recent job, up until Covid, was working a desk job in a call center. Although I had lots of coworkers, I rarely interacted with them because I was constantly on the phone doing work at my own cubicle. I have been working this job from home now since April. I enjoy interacting with members over the phone better than in-person, as it is less stressful for me. I enjoy that it is only inbound calls that I make and that it doesn’t include having to make any sales. However, it can be stressful dealing with computers and computer systems that don’t always work, as well as having to learn new systems and software from time to time.

I have learned from my work experiences that I don’t want to do emotional labor. It brings up too many feelings and memories of my own and I feel too great a responsibility for the person. I don’t want to be micromanaged but I do want to have the support there when I need it. I don’t like feeling as though my supervisors think I’m stupid, but I also don’t like feeling as though everything ultimately lies on my shoulders and I don’t have a sounding board. I like knowing what’s expected of me and having those expectations remain consistent. I don’t like being told contradictory information. I want to make sure I’m doing my job well. I like challenges but do not like being set up for failure. I appreciate jobs that are relatively routine but allow me to express my creative side and use my own discretion. I like doing my job but then also having a life separate from that job when the work day has ended. I don’t want work life bleeding into my “real” life. What have you learned about yourself based on the jobs you’ve held?

Can You Trust Your Memory?

Recently, I was discussing some events from a long time ago with a family member. I was surprised to find out that details I thought I very clearly remembered were incorrect. It got me thinking about the possibility of memory being untrustworthy. How is it possible to be so certain you remember something one way when it actually happened another? Or to be positive of certain people, places, or things, but have that information incorrect, as well?

It’s possible to confuse memories with secondhand information. For example, if a story is told enough times within a family, you might start to create mental images in much the same way you do when immersed in reading a book. Eventually, if asked, you will report that you remember an event or conversation of which you actually have no firsthand knowledge.

Your memory is largely filtered by your experiences, personality, and mindset. If you want something to have happened or to have played out in a certain way, it is possible to convince yourself it did. Also, two people can go through the exact same event together yet remember it very differently later on, because their respective minds are filtering the event through different mental paradigms. You might see an event as inherently positive, while somebody else involved could have a very different perspective on that memory. Additionally, if you have had similar experiences, it is possible to merge the memories of two separate occasions into one without realizing it. It’s also possible to use similar situations you’ve experienced to determine how you feel about a certain memory in a similar context. For example, if you generally had bad experiences at all your birthday parties growing up, your mind might not allow you to remember a positive birthday party experience you had because of your conditioned expectation that your birthday parties are not meant to go well, that something bad “always” happens. Personally, I engage in a lot of maladaptive daydreaming, which is a psychological term for creating a fake, yet very convincing reality in order to escape one’s traumas and disappointments. This kind of daydreaming can go on for hours at a time and seem very real. I have experienced confusion in the past when trying to remember if a certain conversation actually happened or if I had daydreamed it.

Your mind tends to fill in gaps in your memory over time. It can feel frustrating, unbalancing, even scary not to remember an event that happened to you in its entirety. It can feel urgent to remember. It can feel (and can actually be) dangerous to forget. It’s possible that after a while your mind will begin to fill in the missing pieces by itself as to give you an entire story, unbroken, from start to finish. I know there have been times I think to myself, “I used to know this. How could I have forgotten? I was even talking about this not so long ago. Did it go like this? That certainly makes sense in the story and I can see that happening, so I think it probably went like that.” Later on down the line, you won’t even remember that you had assumed that part had unfolded in a certain way. You will come to believe you had always retained the memory that way.

But why does any of this matter? How should the above be applied to living a peaceful, fulfilling life? So many people are holding themselves back because of what they deem to be bad memories of negative events that occurred to them in the past, sometimes in the far distant past. Events or conversations that took place and continue to haunt them until this day. Perhaps a recital they feel went terribly or an important talk with a friend they felt they didn’t handle well. However, as we have seen, many of our memories are simply our subconscious fears and insecurities pretending to be fact. Our memories may or may not have actually taken place. Speaking to other people who were there (if the memory is even real at all), it might be surprising to find out they have very different perspectives on what occurred. So do not allow the past to affect your future, because it might not really even be true reflections of your past. Do not elevate your perceptions and perspectives to the height of unarguable truth. Do not give something that might or might not even be real that kind of power over your happiness going forward. Realize that you are in control of your narrative and that you can choose to interpret life experiences as important or insignificant, fateful or impotent, ruinous or enlightening. All that ultimately exists and all that ultimately matters is the present.

Don’t Be Afraid to Admit Fear

I have come to realize, deep down, the only thing holding me back is fear. Not my past, not a lack of funds, or a luck of ability, or anything else. It is hard to admit I am scared. It’s much easier to claim guilt and anger, especially righteous anger, which is so useful for virtue-signaling. It’s much easier to claim sadness and disappointment, which are natural reactions to unpleasant circumstances or situations and which so often generate understanding and compassion from others. It’s easier to admit to frustration, which is typically a more surface and temporary emotion. It’s easier to admit to grief, which is usually a reaction to having lost something dear and which also usually results in pity and understanding from others. It is much harder to admit to fear. It feels like admitting to cowardice, impotence, and weakness. But freedom and power result when fear is acknowledged, confronted, and moved past.

So here goes:

I fear success.

I fear failure.

I fear my past.

I fear my future.

I fear what I don’t know.

I fear what I do know.

I fear what other people will think of me.

What do you fear?

How to Remain Present

Concentrating on the present, as opposed to regretting the past or worrying about the future, is important for mental health. But it can be incredibly difficult to remain in the present without allowing your thoughts to slip backwards or forwards. I have found some ways of remaining in the present that are very helpful for me.

First, I think about what I’m grateful for. This helps me realize that as negative as my past and as scary as my future might seem, I am not destined to only have bad in my life. I am lucky to have the present situation I’m in and I should not take it for granted or waste it.

Second, I move my body/get out into nature. It is harder not to be present when my five senses are stimulated. And getting out into nature grounds and calms me in a way nothing else can. I pay attention to my breath/body. How do they feel? Is there pain or tension anywhere? Is my breathing deep and even or shallow and quick? Massages and baths/showers are other sensory experiences that connects me more deeply with my physical body, leading my mind to stay in the present, as well.

Third, I spend time with uplifting people. This is extremely encouraging and enjoying the camaraderie makes falling into patterns of depressive/anxious thinking less tempting and therefore less likely to happen. I’ll admit that even before the pandemic my social life was greatly lacking. Improvement in this area of my life will have positive effects on my mental health.

Fourth, I make a list/stay busy. Concentrating on improving my present circumstances by checking items off either a literal or mental “to do” list is uplifting and makes it less likely I’ll feel the need to “disappear” into the past or future.

Fifth, I write down my current thoughts and feelings. I write what I am currently struggling with. I check in with myself at this present moment.

These are my favorite ways of staying present. You might have other ways that work for you. It is important to prioritize our mental well-being by staying present and not allowing ourselves to get stuck in the continuous and addictive loop of rehashing the past or mentally constructing our futures.